Lexical lists

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16th tablet of the Urra=hubullu lexical series, Louvre Museum

The cuneiform lexical lists are a series of ancient Mesopotamian glossaries which preserve the semantics of Sumerograms, their phonetic value and their Akkadian or other language equivalents.[1] They are the oldest literary texts from Mesopotamia and one of the most widespread genres in the ancient Near East. Wherever cuneiform tablets have been uncovered, inside Iraq or in the wider Middle East, these lists have been discovered.[2]


The earliest lexical lists are the archaic (early third millennium) word lists uncovered in caches of business documents and which comprise lists of nouns, the absence of verbs being due to their sparse use in these records of commercial transactions. The most notable text is LU A, a list of professions which would be reproduced for the next thousand years until the end of the Old Babylonian period virtually unchanged. Later third millennium lists dating to around 2600 BC have been uncovered at Fara and Abū Ṣalābīkh, including the Fara God List, the earliest of this genre. The tradition continued until the end of the Ur III period, after which marked changes in the form of the texts took place. This era, the Old-Babylonian period, saw the emergence of the UR5-ra = hubullu themed list. Similarly, lists of complex signs and polyvalent symbols emerged to support a more nuanced scribal training.[3]:13–18

The Kassite or Middle-Babylonian period shows that scribal schools actively preserved the lexical traditions of the past[4] and there is evidence of the canonization of some texts, such as izi = išātu and Ká-gal = abullu. The works SIG7+ALAM (ulutim) = nabnītu and Erim-huš = anantu are thought to have been composed at this time. The first Millennium represents a further expansion and refinement of the texts and the introduction of commentaries and synonym lists.[5]

Function and typology[edit]

Lexical lists fall within one or more of the following broad categories:

  • simple sign lists and syllabories
  • complex or compound sign lists, name lists
  • acrographic sign lists, ordered by sign shape or orientation
  • thematic lexical texts
  • synonym and/or antonym lists
  • lists expounding homophony (multiple symbols, single sound) and polyvalency (single symbols, multiple meanings)

The extant texts can be classified by typology as follows:

  • Prisms and large tablets
  • Teacher-student exercises
  • Single column tablets
  • Lentils ("practice buns")

This would also have included wax-covered writing boards, examples of which have regrettably not survived.

List of lexical and synonym lists[edit]

The following provides a listing of the various synonym, lexical and grammatical lists whose occurrences have yielded a name used in antiquity or significance has resulted in a designation in modern Assyriology, where the MSL (Materialem zum sumerischen Lexikon / Materials for the Sumerian Lexikon) or other references in square parentheses give the primary publication of the lexical texts, the synonym texts not qualifying for inclusion in this (MSL) series.

  • á = idu a brief two-tablet list of the first millennium [CT 11 28-32][6]:624
  • A-áA = nâqu, “to cry, groan”, a 42-tablet, 14,400 entry list[5] [MSL 14]
  • alan = lānu
  • An = Anum, a Sumerian god synonym-list on six tablets thought to have originated during the late Kassite era[7] [CT 24 20-50]
  • An = Anu ša amēli, “An is the Anu of man”, undoubtedly a Kassite product according to Lambert, an Akkadian list of around 160 divine names[7] [CT 26 50]
  • An = šamu
  • ki-ulutin-bi-še3 = ana ittišu, legal terms, a phrasebook with sentences used in contracts [MSL 1]
  • Anšar = Anu, synonym list
  • An-ta-gál = šaqû, an Assyrian word list giving synonyms and antonyms on ten tablets[5] [MSL 17]
  • Assyrian Temple List, extant in copies from Nineveh and Assur[8]
  • Babylonian Temple List
  • Birds, archaic word-list
  • Canonical Temple List, a theological list extant from the Library of Ashurbanipal[8]
  • Cattle, archaic word-list
  • Cities/god list, early dynastic tablet found in single exemplar from Ur with two simple lists[9]:390
  • Dimmir = dingir = ilum, Emesal vocabulary, an Assyrian list [MSL 4]
  • Diri, DIR siāku = (w)atru, “to be bigger than”, list of complex or compound signs composed of two or more basic signs on 7-tablets and 2,100 entries[5] [MSL 15]
  • EaA = nâqu, a sign list with the format: Sumerian gloss–Sumerian sign–Akkadian translation which eventually grew to 8-tablets and a line-count of around 2,400 by the Neo-Babylonian period[10] [MSL 14]
  • Ebla syllabaries, vocabulary and sign list, c. 2400 BC, one of the syllabories is an adaption of LU A to local Syrian vernacular
  • Erim-huš = anantu, a list explaining rare words in literary texts giving brief sequences of synonyms or near-synonyms on 7 tablets[5] [MSL 17]
  • Fara God List, the earliest extant god-list with around 500 of them listed without elaboration, from Šuruppak c. 2600 BC
  • Fish, archaic word-list
  • Genouillac God List, an Old Babylonian god list of 473 names in 10 columns [TCL 15 10]
  • Geography X, early dynastic list of place names and terms[9]:383
  • Great Star List, a first Millennium list on perhaps 10 tablets[11] [CT 26 40-50]
  • HAR(or UR5)-ra = hubullu, “commercial loan” the most important thematically arranged word-list, around 3300 lines long and comprising six themed sub-lists, 9,700 entries on 24 tablets[5] [MSL 5-11]
  • igituḫ (igi-du8-a) = tāmartu, “visibility”[12]
  • izi = išātu a Kassite-era acrographic word list, on more than 30 tablets[5] [MSL 13]
  • Ká-gal = abullu, "great gate", list of temples and other building types [MSL 13]
  • List C, of Akkadian personal names
  • List of diseases, bilingual, Old Babylonian origin [MSL 9][6]:630
  • LÚ A, nám ešda, archaic list of professions with 140 entries, 185 exemplars dating from Uruk IV onward[6]:613
  • azlag2 = ašlāku, "fuller", more extensive bilingual list of professions (Old Babylonian Lu2) [MSL 12]
  • LU E, early dynastic list of professions apparently created to replace LÚ A with an updated list of professions, its life was however much shorter, about three centuries until the Sargonic period[9]:391
  • lú = ša, a five-tablet canonical list of terms referring to human beings (only unilingual copies extant) [MSL 12][6]:629
  • lù = zitàte [MSL 12]
  • Malku = šarru, "king", 8-tablet Akkadian synonym list with around ten percent of its content drawn from West-Semitic, Kassite, Hurrian, Hittite and Elamite languages [AOAT 50]
  • Metal, NAGAR, an archaic word-list
  • mur.gud = imrû = ballu, "fodder", a commentary on UR5-ra
  • Níg-ga = makkūru, "property",[13] acrographic exercises beginning with the symbol NÍG [MSL 13]
  • Nippur god list, gives approximately 270 divine names and dates from the Old-Babylonian period
  • Officials, early dynastic list of job titles[9]:398
  • Plants, archaic word-list
  • proto-Aa, bilingual version of Proto-Ea with a number of Akkadian translations for each of the Sumerian values (Old-Babylonian)
  • proto-Ea, the designation for two different texts, a syllabary and a vocabulary, a format with, and one without glosses, expounding polyvalency (Old-Babylonian)[6]:620
  • proto-Diri, complex signs (Old-Babylonian)
  • proto-Izi, a more advanced lexical exercise, an acrographic list (Old-Babylonian)
  • proto-Kagal, acrographic exercises, beginning with terms related to gates and buildings and concluding with terms prefixed with GIŠ determinative (Old-Babylonian)
  • proto-ki-ulutin-bi-še3 (Old-Babylonian)
  • proto-Lú, a thematic list of titles and professions, kinship terms, and other designations for human beings (Old-Babylonian) [MSL 12, 42]
  • proto-Ur5-ra, a six "tablet" early version of the later work with each tablet ending with the doxology dnisaba zà-mí: Nisaba be praised (Old-Babylonian)[14]
  • Reciprocal Ea, list of homophonous signs[5]
  • SAG A, sag = awīlum, Old-Babylonian acrographic list [MSL SS 1]
  • SAG B, sag = ilum, Middle-Babylonian acrographic list [MSL SS 1]
  • SIG7+ALAM (ulutim) = nabnītu, “form” or “appearance”, a vocabulary of the names of body parts and related terms on between 32 and 54 tablets with at least 10,500 entries[5] probably composed during the Kassite period [MSL 16]
  • Syllabary A, an elementary sign list [MSL 3]
  • Syllable Alphabet A, a very elementary exercise thought to date to the Ur III period,[15]:196 the only Old Babylonian exercise that was thoroughly standardized all over Babylonia[9]:385 [MVN 6 4]
  • Syllabary B, a two tablet compendium, a sign list derived from EaA = nâqu, the oldest copies being Middle-Babylonian[16]
  • Syllable Alphabet B, Old Babylonian sign-list, from Nippur, called the "Sumerian Primer" by Chiera, a standardized and repetitious sign exercise [MSL SS 1]
  • Syllable Vocabulary A, Syllable Alphabet A with speculative Akkadian translations [MSL SS 1]
  • Šarru or Group Vocabulary 3
  • šaššu = ḫurāṣu, synonym list, an explicit version of Malku = šarru [CT 18 11-14]
  • Table of Measures
  • Tin.tir = Babylon, a five tablet list of Sumero-Akkadian toponyms with about three quarters of its 300 lines of text extant
  • tu-ta-ti, Old-Babylonian sign-list, with three syllables in u-a-i sequence, 3 versions[3]:44
  • ù = anāku, a neo-Babylonian grammatical text [MSL 4, 129]
  • Ugu-mu, "my cranium", list of around 250 body parts ordered from head to foot, physiognomy and physiological conditions, in use from the Old Babylonian to the Kassite period[17]
  • ummia = ummianu, "scholar", non-canonical profession list of the first Millennium
  • Ur-e-a = nâqu [MSL 2]
  • Ur-Nanshe (not to be confused with the founder of the first dynasty of Lagash), a curricular personal name list from the Old Babylonian period[18]
  • uru.an.na = maštakal, the "Babylonian Pharmacopoeia", Assyrian four-tablet list of plants for medicinal purposes with directions for use in the third column
  • Vessels and Garments, archaic thematic word-list[9]:400
  • Vocabulary Sa, sign list with Akkadian translations [MSL 3]
  • Vocabulary Sb [MSL 3]
  • Weidner god-list, Anum, traditional god-list with copies extant as far back as the Ur III and Isin-Larsa periods.[19]
  • Wood, archaic word-list
  • Word List C, “tribute”, a misnomer based on identification of gú/gún with tax, a concise archaic Sumerian word list of animals, numbers, foodstuff and agricultural terminology[15]:183 [KAV 46-47, 63-65]
  • Word list D, “grain”, an archaic Sumerian word list

Generically identified Neo-Babylonian grammatical texts (NBGT) and Old-Babylonian grammatical texts (OBGT) have been omitted.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Jeremy A. Black (1996). Sumerian Grammar in Babylonian Theory (Studia Pohl). Loyola. p. 3. 
  2. ^ Yoram Cohen (Forthcoming). "Lexical Lists: Compositions for Reading and Writing the Cuneiform Script". Shnaton.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b Niek Veldhuis (1997). Elementary Education at Nippur: The Lists of Trees and Wooden Objects (Doctoral Dissertation). Groningen. 
  4. ^ Niek Veldhuis (2000). Kassite Exercises: Literary and Lexical Extracts. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 52. pp. 80–82. JSTOR 1359687. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jon Taylor (2007). "Babylonian lists of words and signs". In Gwendolyn Leick. The Babylonian World. Routledge. pp. 432–443. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Antoine Cavaigneaux (1980–83). "Lexikalische Listen". In Erich Ebeling, Bruno Meissner, Dietz Otto Edzard. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie: volume 6, Klagegesang - Libanon. Walter De Gruyter. pp. 609–641. 
  7. ^ a b W. G. Lambert (1969). "Götterlisten". Reallexikon Der Assyriologie Und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie, Bd. 3/6. p. 478. 
  8. ^ a b A. R. George (1993). House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia. Eisenbrauns. p. 5. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Niek Veldhuis (2010). "Guardians of Tradition: Early Dynastic Lexical Texts in Old Babylonian Copies". In Heather D. Baker, Eleanor Robson, Gábor Zólyomi. Your praise is sweet: A memorial volume for Jeremy Black. British Institute for the Study of Iraq. 
  10. ^ Niek Veldhuis (2011). "Levels of Literacy". In Karen Radner, Eleanor Robson. Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 78. 
  11. ^ Ulla Koch-Westenholz (1994). Mesopotamian Astrology. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 187. 
  12. ^ tāmartu, CAD T p. 111.
  13. ^ makkūru, CAD M1, p. 133.
  14. ^ Niek Veldhuis (1998). "A Late Old Babylonian Proto-Kagal / Nigga Text". Acta Sumerologica 20: 211. 
  15. ^ a b Niek Veldhuis (2006). "How did they Learn Cuneiform? “Tribute/Word List C” as an Elementary Exercise". In Piotr Michalowski, Niek Veldhuis. Approaches to Sumerian Literature: Studies in Honour of Stip (H. L. J. Vanstiphout). Brill. 
  16. ^ William W. Hallo (Jan–Apr 1982). "Notes from the Babylonian Collection, II: Old Babylonian HAR-ra". Journal of Cuneiform Studies 34 (1/2): 84. JSTOR 1359994. 
  17. ^ Yoram Cohen (2012). "The Ugu-mu Fragment from Ḫattuša/Boğazköy KBo 13.2". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 71 (1): 1. JSTOR 664449. 
  18. ^ Jeremiah Peterson (2013). "A Preliminary Catalog of Old Babylonian Sources for the Curricular Personal Name List Ur-Nanshe". NABU (2): 34–36.  n. 21
  19. ^ Daisuke Shibata (2009). "An Old Babylonian manuscript of the Weidner god-list from Tell Taban". Iraq 71: 35.